January 18, 2007


A Survival Guide to Managing Employees from Hell: Handling Idiots, Whiners, Slackers, and Other Workplace Demons. By Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. AMACOM. $15.

     Bosses have feelings, too.  So it seems only fair that Gini Graham Scott, author of A Survival Guide for Working with Bad Bosses (not to mention A Survival Guide for Working with Humans), has now turned the tables (or the desks) and produced a book designed to help bosses handle those people who are usually referred to politely as “problem employees.”

     Scott’s books can be counted on to be plainspoken, packed with anecdotes designed to illustrate her points, filled with “take-aways” that summarize each chapter, and written to be as easy to read as possible.  They can also be counted on to be a bit blithe and facile in their recommendations, as if workplace problems are really pretty obvious from Scott’s lofty height and are also, when you come right down to it, pretty easy to solve.  It therefore helps to read, absorb and even enjoy Scott’s examples of horrible workplace behavior without necessarily accepting the apparent ease of making things better.  Her recommendations are usually solid enough, but she tends to toss them out as if they are no big deal – even though, in our litigious society filled with protected classes and aggrieved people of all sorts, making any personnel change can be a monumental struggle.

     Give Scott credit: she does not tell bosses that problem employees are invariably idiots who just happen to have gotten hired.  In fact, toward the end of A Survival Guide to Managing Employees from Hell, Scott warns bosses that a pattern of employee troubles (real or perceived) may indicate difficulties with the boss himself or herself.  Still, the bulk of this book is devoted to workplace jerks of many kinds, and Scott does her usual clear job of showing who they are and how toxic they can be.

     There are five sections of the book – bad attitude, incompetence, personal issues, trust and honesty, and communication – plus a sixth, summary section.  Within her five main parts, Scott deals specifically with such well-known types as the prima donna, the “arrogant a**hole,” employees protected by the big boss, sensitive souls, people with drug and alcohol problems, flat-out liars, and more.  Scott gives an example of the behavior of each type, then asks the reader what ought to be done.  The suggested solutions fall into a pattern: fire the offending person, talk to him or her, meet with others in the company affected by his or her behavior, and so on.

     Sometimes Scott’s ideas make really good sense.  For instance, one case deals with a male Hispanic employee (one of a close-knit employee group that may take offense if anything bad happens to any of them) who grabs a provocatively dressed non-Hispanic woman worker inappropriately.  Scott shows how this could work out: the boss immediately and completely supports the woman and then asks her advice on what to do about the man who grabbed her.  It turns out she wants him reprimanded but not fired, so the boss does as she suggests and everything turns out well; neither the man nor anyone in his group is offended or quits.  This is a good solution if you can arrange it.  In other cases, though, Scott describes a situation resolved only by factors that a boss cannot influence.  For instance, the company’s top salesman is so nasty and demanding that he reduces clerical staff to tears, causes some people to quit and leads others to try to sabotage him – a dangerous situation for the company if there ever was one.  But he is the top salesman.  Scott has no specific recommendation here, but acts as if she does, explaining that eventually the salesman lost some deals and learned humility.  Fine, but no boss taught him humility – or respect for others.

     Even if Scott’s solutions are not always satisfactory, her detailing of the office chaos caused by all sorts of “employees from Hell” is useful for helping managers see that they are not alone, that others face similar difficulties with some workers, and that there are things that a boss can do to handle the occasional super-troublesome person.  The key word there is “occasional.”  If these people show up on the payroll more than occasionally, it’s more likely the boss than the employees themselves who are at fault.

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